Peterborough’s Grand Designs

08:20 Wednesday 5th October 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: At the end of last month the LibDems on Peterborough City Council came up with this idea to sell Peterborough Town Hall. And you all scoffed. I scoffed. I even scoffed in the column in the ET about it. In fact we poked fun at the LibDems. But, the City Council is actually considering the LibDem suggestion. It will consider a report which shows at least £2 million could be saved by moving Council services elsewhere, and putting them under one roof, while selling off the Town Hall. English Democrat Stephen Goldspink though isn’t sure it’s a great idea. (TAPE)
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: The problem is Paul that we tried to do this before, back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. We built a second floor on top of the Town Hall, with the intention of bringing everyone into the Town Hall, and thereby reducing costs by ditching other buildings. And it didn’t work out. It didn’t work out because the Government changed the rules, changed the legislation. Peterborough decided to be a unitary authority. It’s a very risky move. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Now when this idea was mooted, a few weeks ago, there was some confusion about what the Town Hall was actually worth. The Council said it’s worth about £2.5 million. The LibDems thought it was about £80 million. So we thought we’d help out, and get it valued. Here’s local estate agent Martin Fitzjohn from a few weeks ago. (TAPE)
MARTIN FITZJOHN: £100 million, or £80 million, is crazy. But then for somebody to suggest £2, £3, up to £6 million is also extremely low. There are houses in Peterborough now in the better areas, the more desirable areas, that people would say were worth £10 million, just for a residential home. So you’re probably looking around the £40, £40 to £60 million, something like that.
PAUL STAINTON: Fifty big ones.
MARTIN FITZJOHN: Yes. You’d have to look at the square footage, and then the development costs and that would force out a figure for developers to work back on. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well that’s Martin Fitzjohn from Fitzjohn Ingle estate agents. Let’s speak to Marco Cereste, Leader of Peterborough City Council. Morning.
MARCO CERESTE: Hello Paul. How are you?
PAUL STAINTON: I’m good. We’ve saved you a few quid on the valuation survey there.
MARCO CERESTE: You know we’re going to put it on Ebay, and the chandelier will go free as part of the sale.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Martin did say it might sit on the market for a while, but he’d chuck in the fountains. You might get £40 million.
MARCO CERESTE: Yes. Well, you know, there’s nothing wrong with getting as much as you can for it. Why not? If that’s what we can get for it, it’s fantastic. If we can get £100 million for it it would be even better.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Are you serious?
MARCO CERESTE: Of course I’m serious. Oh yeah yeah yeah. Absolutely. We’ve got we we we’ve come down I mean and I heard what Councillor Goldspink said. What you’ve got to remember in the context of what’s happened over the last four or five years as an authority, we started off about five or six years ago with 3,500 staff. We’re now down to about 1,600. And we’ve got over 200,000 square feet of offices, filled by what used to be over 3,000 staff it’s now 1,000 something. I think it’s about nearly 1,600. And it’s all costing us and the ratepayers money. Now you’d be the first one to scream at me if I didn’t if we didn’t sort it out. So it’s got to be done. Well you’ve got to find a solution, and the best solution appears to me to be it appears to be and it’s going to Council for decision, that the best solution appears to be to find a proper new City Hall built to the very very best environmental standards, which fits in with our credentials. And we move everybody I mean everybody in the city into one place. So the citizens of Peterborough will be able to go to a single place, get the service that they need without wandering around the city, without not being too sure about where to access whatever it is that they need to access. And we as a city can save a lot of money. So it seems to me like a win win all round.
PAUL STAINTON: Except it is going to cost some money isn’t it? To do this the report shows that if you do lease 130,000 square feet building it could cost you up to £8 million.
MARCO CERESTE: Well eventually yes it will do. The start now will be a lot less than that of course. The cost initially will be a lot less than that but there again in I think the report if there will come a time when it could cost £8 million a year. But that’s in the context that at the same time if we kept the existing buildings on, brought them up to even begin to get close to standard they would cost us considerably more than the £8 million. So the longterm is just savings all the time. And of course you’ve got to take into consideration that if we go into a new BREEAM excellence building, the cost of running that building is set off as energy prices increase. And you and I both know everybody’s listening to us now will know that energy prices have just gone up 18%. It’s going to save the local authority and therefore the citizens of this city a small fortune.
MARCO CERESTE: Wll you know it’s going to save us millions on an annual basis, just in energy terms and in running a building. Plus you’ve got to add to that the conveniance of the citizen having one place to go. And in a way this idea will also help us continue with the growth agenda, and create new jobs, stimulate employment and construction in our city. It’s just a win win all round Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. What if the Government change the ballgame? Because this is a tricky time to make big decisions, isn’t it?
MARCO CERESTE: Yes but what are they going to change? This is just about all this is is about rationalising the City Council’s estate. And no more so than a person says well I’m now approaching retirement, my children have grown up. They’ve got their own homes. Let’s sort it out. I no longer need a 6 bedroom house. I need a 3 bedroom house. And that’s what the Council’s doing. It’s saying look you know this is all this is all now a change over the years. We’ve reduced the number of people working for us, so they’re becoming more efficient and more effective. We don’t need all this space. We need to rationalise this space. You’ve got to agree with me. We can’t have the situation that we have at the moment. It’s not acceptable. It’s not good management. And you would be the first to criticise me if we didn’t if we didn’t sort it out. And that’s all we’re doing.
PAUL STAINTON: Will there be safeguards in place though ? If you’re selling the Town Hall, will you have certain safeguards in place? Anything could go in there. You could have a night-club, a strip-joint. Will you put safeguards in place?
MARCO CERESTE: Yes. And not only that. People say we sell the Town Hall. There’s no guarantee we’re going to sell the Town Hall, this is just something that’s been picked up. No there’s nowhere in the report that says we’re going to sell the Town Hall.
PAUL STAINTON: So you’re not going to sell the Town Hall?
MARCO CERESTE: No probably not actually. What we would like to do is whatever we do is safeguard all the ceremonial part of the Town Hall. So, the entrance, the chamber, that sort of area. Because that’s part of our heritage and part of our culture. And then we would be very careful about what happens to the rest of it. And you’re quite right. We would want something to happen in the Town Hall that fits in with what is expected in our city now. So it might be some quality apartments. It may be a really nice hotel. Something like that. But it needs to be something that fits with our vision of what we want in the city. It fits with our visiion for bringing life back into the city, and also creates a new opportunity for new business and new people.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. So we’re hopefully going to have this new big centre where everybody’s going to be situated, everybody’s going to be able to go to, and see all their councillors. ..Council Services, they will move there as well? Or will they stay in the centre of Peterborough eventually?
MARCO CERESTE: What? Sorry, Council Services?
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Yes. For ..
MARCO CERESTE: No, no, they’ll all move to the one building. The whole idea is not only save money but also to make things easier for the citizens of this city to find their services, to get the appropriate help and support and what have you.
PAUL STAINTON: Well wherever you build this, people will be able to get to it, and it will be accessible. Yes?
MARCO CERESTE: You can be absolutely sure that that will be one of the main criteria. Yes.